Late last year I lost two close friends. Though each left behind a distinction or two, both slipped into the cosmic void largely unnoticed by posterity.
Early this year I began reflecting on the pity of that, and wondered how many others who have edged toward the margins of fame perish in similarly unjust obscurity.
That's when I decided to start my Death Collection, gathering from the daily obits a catalog of notable mortals who this year fell, yet fell just short of recognition on the ten o'clock news. In the hope of slightly magnifying the microscopic and chiefly unmourned fossils they've left on the landscape of cultural history, I honor them thus:
THE CHICAGO-AREA SEMIFAMOUS
John O'Neil Farrell, 87, a graduate of Austin High School, sped to fleeting fame as the 1928 Olympic bronze medalist in the 500-meter speed-skating event.
Adelyn Turner Lyness, 101, attended the College of DuPage for 12 years, entering at age 89 and finishing with a 4.0 average.
Julia C. Krafft, 98, was the founder of Mrs. Steven's Candies. She was also Mrs. Steven, having married Leslie Steven in Elgin, Illinois.
Wray Vern Barlow McKenzie, 72, of Downers Grove, was a World War II bombardier whose plane was shot down over Holland. He spent the remainder of the war as a guest of the Nazis in the infamous Stalag 17.
Marie Hughes, 96, of the Brainard neighborhood, was one of the first eight women who graduated from the Chicago Police Academy. She died in Oak Lawn, the last survivor of the group.
M. Geraldine Ross, 82, formerly of the Beverly neighborhood, was the great-granddaughter of Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow (as legend has it) kicked over a bucket and ignited the great Chicago Fire in 1871.
Dr. Leo Latz, 91, of the West Ridge neighborhood, in 1932 published a booklet entitled "The Rhythm," thus giving birth to a new, if precarious, form of birth control.
Jack Richards, 77, of Lincoln Park, was the cinematographer for many films including Damien: Omen II, A Wedding, Silver Streak, and Chicago Story, but perhaps the deepest tracks he left were as cameraman for Marlin Perkins in the TV series Wild Kingdom.
Don Les, 79, a onetime Chicagoan, was one of the original Harmonicats, whose recording of "Peg o' My Heart" climbed to number one on the charts in 1947.
Tom Blake, 92, of Ashland, Wisconsin, in 1921 drilled holes in his surfboard, dropping its weight by 30 pounds and thus revolutionizing the sport of surfing. Years later he added a metal fin to the surfboard, advancing the state of the art to yet another level.
Philip Consolo, 80, was half of Consolo and Melba, a dance team that dazzled Chicago nightclubbers for years.
Marcine "Iggy" Wolverton, 76, of Lake Forest, designed, developed, and produced such coin-operated marvels as Gun Fight and Space Invaders.
Bob Payton, 50, introduced London to Chicago-style cuisine with the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, the Chicago Rib Shack, and the Windy City Bar & Grill.
William S. Walker, 76, of River Forest was the composer and producer of thousands of commercial jingles. Two of the most memorable went, "Electricity costs less today, you know, than it did many long years ago" and "Never borrow money needlessly, but when you must, borrow with a purpose from HFC, the name to trust--borrow confidently from HFC."
Steven Gaymont, 89, was the bacteriologist who introduced yogurt to the U.S. A Hungarian immigrant, he also invented frozen yogurt and was the first to produce whipped cream cheese, premade dairy dips, and low-fat sour cream.
THE INTERNATIONAL SEMIFAMOUS
John Bradley, 70, was one of the six marines photographed raising the flag at Iwo Jima in 1945. He was the last survivor of the group.
Jack "King" Kirby was the most prolific comic book artist of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, pioneering romance comics as well as hatching the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the Uncanny X-Men, the Avengers, and Sandman.
Marcel Bich, 79, of Paris, was a fountain-pen salesman who after World War II obtained patent rights to a ballpoint pen invented by Ladislas Biro of Hungary. Bich named his pen the Bic, and the rest is written history.
Roy Plunkett, 83, invented dozens of products for DuPont. In 1938, while investigating a chemical snafu at a DuPont laboratory, he stumbled upon an extraordinarily slippery substance that was dubbed poly-tetrafluoroethane then. It's called Teflon now.
Reuben Mattus, 81, was a Polish immigrant who as a teenager peddled homemade ice cream from a horse-drawn wagon on the streets of New York. In 1959 he decided to sell an extremely rich ice cream, giving it a nonsense name that he crowned with an umlaut: Hagen-Dazs.
Raymond Geiger, 83, was the editor of the Farmer's Almanac for more than half a century. His funeral last year wasn't his first, though. In 1990 the eccentric Geiger staged his own funeral (inviting family and friends to the unveiling of his gravestone) so he wouldn't miss it.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Paul Moch.